Are Carrots Good for You?
Your complete guide to the nutritional punch you get from their bright colors
Carrots, like most vegetables, have few calories and lots of nutrients. Still, questions persist among some health-minded people about just how good for you these root veggies really are. For starters, is their sugar content too high, given that some low-carb diets recommend limiting carrots? And what about the rainbow of colors you can buy now—how do purple, yellow, and red carrots stack up nutritionally against the standard orange? Also, can carrots really improve your eyesight? Here are answers to these questions that will provide you with a clearer picture of the health value of these vegetables.
Sugar: Is It a Concern?
Carrots are somewhat higher in natural sugars than many vegetables. This has led some weight loss plans to recommend consuming the veggie in limited quantities. These include very low-carb diets, such as the keto (ketogenic) diet, and plans that focus on the glycemic index (GI), which measures how fast foods that contain carbohydrates raise blood glucose (sugar) levels.
The Power of Color
Much of this vegetable's nutritional value comes from carotenoids, which are found in thousands of plants but are highly concentrated in carrots—especially orange and yellow ones.
Many carotenoids are converted into vitamin A in the human body, and 1 cup of cooked carrots contains enough to supply five times the amount you should get in a day. Vitamin A is needed for healthy eyes and vision, but it’s not quite accurate to say carrots improve eyesight. Though vitamin A is good for your eyes, it isn’t going to correct nearsightedness or poor night vision.
However, carotenoids do act as powerful antioxidants, strengthening the body’s ability to repair cell damage. Studies suggest that they may reduce the risk of developing some types of cancer, tame the kind of inflammation in the body that can lead to disease, and boost the immune system.
Carrots have been shown to be particularly beneficial when it comes to heart health. “We know carrots can reduce cholesterol, they help lower blood pressure, and some research has shown they can help prevent stroke,” says Martha Gulati, MD, director of the cardiology department at University of Arizona, Phoenix. “I am always trying to get my patients to eat more carrots."
And there is research showing that fruits and veggies rich in carotenoids can improve complexion and overall appearance by giving skin a healthy glow. Be careful, though: Overdoing it on carrots—or other foods high in carotenoids—can actually turn your skin yellow or orange, a condition called carotenosis. (Fortunately, the “cure” is to cut back on orange and yellow produce.)
Purple and red carrots are also high in carotenoids, but their main colors come from different antioxidant pigments. Purple carrots (and other purple vegetables and fruits) owe their bright hue to anthocyanins, for example, while red carrots contain lycopene (also found in tomatoes and watermelon). Both of these compounds may be protective against heart disease and cancer.
Cook Them Up
To maximize these benefits, consider getting some of your carrot intake in cooked form. Your body has an easier time absorbing the carotenoids in carrots if you eat them cooked rather than raw. Cooking breaks down the vegetable’s cell walls, making its nutrients more available.
Of course, how you cook them matters—boiling vegetables can leach out nutrients, so it’s better to steam, sauté, or roast. If you still prefer boiling your carrots, throw them in the water whole—you’ll keep the most nutrients. And eating cooked (or raw) carrots with a little fat, such as olive oil or hummus, further enhances carotenoid absorption.
Don’t Forget the Greens
In the interest of reducing food waste, consider incorporating carrots’ leafy green tops into your meal. Carrot tops have long been plagued with rumors that they may be poisonous, but in fact they are both edible and nutritious.
Carrot tops contain significantly higher levels of vitamin C than the root, as well as additional potassium, calcium, and protein. Though they can be a little bitter if consumed raw, sautéing the greens in a little olive oil and salt will soften any harsh flavor.